German Peppernut (Pfeffernusse) Cookies
Peppernut cookies, or Pfeffernusse in German, are small spice cookies loaded with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. There’s molasses, too, for a richer flavor, and a splash of brandy for brightness. But, the ingredient that sets these little guys apart is pepper!
Pfeffernusse are classic German cookies (like spritz cookies) and they are often made around Christmas time.
What Are the Special Ingredients in Peppernuts?
- Pepper – Pepper is what makes these cookies most unique. Americans often shy away from the idea of pepper in sweet desserts, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the fun spicy kick it gives them. You can use any ground pepper, but white pepper works nicely if you don’t want to see black specks in the cookies.
- Holiday spices – Once you get past the pepper, the spices look like many other German Christmas cookies. They include cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves.
- Molasses – Just like in ginger molasses cookies, molasses gives the cookies a rich, deep flavor. You can use light or dark molasses (dark will give a stronger flavor). I do not recommend using blackstrap molasses as it has a more bitter flavor.
- Brandy – The recipe doesn’t use a lot of brandy; rather, it has just enough to add a touch of brandy flavor. If you don’t want to purchase brandy only for this recipe, you can use rum or even replace the brandy with apple juice.
- Almonds – Finely chopped almonds give the cookies an extra little crunch. Fun fact: Peppernuts don’t have the word nuts in the them because of the nuts in the recipe; it’s because they are traditionally shaped like nuts.
Crunchy or Soft?
The smaller you make your dough balls and the longer you bake them for, the crunchier the cookies will be. The insides may be chewy when they first come out of the oven, but they will get quite crunchy if you leave them uncovered for a few days!
That being said, if you prefer your Pfeffernusse softer, like a spicier version of ginger molasses cookies, just make the dough balls a bit larger and store them in an airtight container.
I dust my Peppernuts in powdered sugar, but some people prefer to leave them plain or top them with a simple glaze made of powdered sugar and milk or lemon juice.
Although I typically make sugar cookie snowman cookies, I’ve also made Peppernuts that look like snowmen with peppercorn buttons and eyes.
- Zimtsterne (German cinnamon star cookies)
- Ginger molasses cookies
- Double chocolate chip cookies
- Christmas snowman cookies
- Hedgehog cookies
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper use white pepper if you don't want to see the black specks
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons molasses any kind except blackstrap
- 3 tablespoons brandy substitute rum or apple juice if you don't want to use brandy
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar for decorating
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a small cup, mix molasses and brandy.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Mix in egg yolks.
- Mix in chopped almonds.
- Alternately mix flour mixture and molasses/brandy into the butter/sugar mixture in thirds, mixing between each addition until just combined.
- Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least eight hours or up to three days to allow the flavors to meld.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F.
- Roll small balls of dough and place a few inches apart from each other on a cookie sheet. The smaller you make the balls, the crunchier the cookies will be. For softer cookies, make larger balls.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until set.
- Cool the cookies on a cooling rack for a few minutes and then toss in powdered sugar.
- Store loosely covered for crispy cookies or in an airtight container for soft cookies.
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